The Great Debate
Tom Axworthy is a guy who likes to toss ideas out there - he's sort of the Preston Manning of the left.
Anyways, Axworthy recently drafted a report on how to improve debates in Canada. I'd originally scribbed down some notes when his report was first released, but never got around to posting them. Then I scribbled down some other notes after listening to the Macleans democracy forum. So, since anything beats talking about the Liberal Party right now, here are some thoughts on how to improve election debates in this country. Feel free to debate away in the comments section.
First, a sampling of Axworthy's suggested improvements:
1. Ban the Bloc from English debates: Terrible idea, for the reasons listed by Chucker Canuck, an anglo Quebecois. We need to get away from the idea that "Quebec = French" and "ROC = English".
If you want to set some criteria where you need to run in half the seats coast-to-coast to participate, I'm fine with that - but that means they'd be out of both the English and French debates.
2. Mandatory participation: No one ever skips the debates anymore, but the threat is always there, so I'm on board with this one. Axworthy says a party leader who skips the debates should lose their public subsidy - at the very least, it should be enshrined in law that a man in a giant chicken suit gets to stand behind the podium of any debate truants.
3. Create a Debates Commission to take the power away from the networks: Agreed. Tom and I are both Liberals and, as a result, we both feel there is no problem too big or too small that a commission can't solve.
4. Run-off debate: This would be held the last week of the campaign, among the two leaders doing the best in the polls. I've suggested this in the past, and think it's a great idea.
Dippers won't like it but, realistically, only 2 people can become PM, and such a debate could lend itself to a real clash of ideas and great television. And, hey, if the NDP ever run a good campaign, to the point where they rise to second in the polls, it would cement their leader as a legitimate contender for the title of PM.
So I like 3 of the 4 recommendations the Globe highlights - it's a 120 page report, and I'll confess to not having read the entire thing (or even being able to find it online). So I assume there are a few more ideas sprinkled in there. But, either way, here are some other changes I'd like to see:
1. Scrap the English/French debate divide: Andrew Coyne's been a proponent of this for a while, and it's grown on me. Instead, make all the debates bilingual. For many of the same reasons listed in point 1 above.
2. More debates: Why only 2 debates? This is the one chance to have an honest exchange of ideas and for voters to see the leaders interact, and all we give them is one debate in their own language, usually scheduled up against Survivor? That's stupid. I would have at least 3 debates plus the final week run-off. Just mix up the formats to keep it fresh - do a town hall, a YouTube debate, podiums, chairs, whatever.
3. Have clear criteria: Do we really have to wait until during the campaign to debate who gets into the debate? There should be clear rules, defined in advance. Say, for example, you must meet 2 of these 4 criteria:
-5% of the vote last election
-10% average support in opinion polls over past year
-155 nominated candidates
-2 seats in the House of Commons
I'm not necessarily suggesting that be the criteria...but there should be something. If for no other reason, than to save us from having to read dozens of process stories on who gets included in the debates every election.